It is the most common request of grandparents and is what every client wants on her walls… and if we are going to be honest with ourselves, we want it, too: that perfect portrait of our little angel showing all of those pearly white teeth in a smile so sweet and happy that we can’t help but smile back.

Childhood is a time defined by joy and so it only makes sense that we would want photos that reflect the happiness we wish for our kids.

And yet, this shot isn’t always easy to get, is it? Sometimes our subjects don’t want to smile and glare at us through the lens, or even worse, they are TOO eager to smile and give us that weird stretch-out mouth thing that looks anything but happy. You know you have a couple of those gems lurking on your hard drive… I sure do!

photo of girl with a fake smile by Kellie Bieser

I have learned quickly that “Say cheese!” doesn’t do the trick (and really, let’s just look back at our own school photos and we can see evidence of that!).

However, there are surefire ways make those smiles emerge and even after using them dozens of times on my own kids and clients, they continue to work! I can’t wait for you to capture smiles of your own using these tricks!

1. Make the photo session a fun adventure in itself.

As a rule, I don’t like bribing for photos. I think that it sets up the experience to be a chore that requires “payment” and that doesn’t sound like fun at all!

Instead, I like to make the session itself the reward. Perhaps we are taking pictures while eating ice cream or we get to go to the park and play on the swings or maybe it is just a little one-on-one time with mom to bake bread or chat.

Whatever it is, I have found that by creating an experience around the photos I remove the stress from the situation for both me and my subject and those smiles I am after happen naturally.

picture of two brothers walking down the road by Kellie Bieser
photo of girl holding homemade bread by Kellie Bieser
toddler boy swinging and smiling by Kellie Bieser
toddler boy walking in a field by Kellie Bieser

2. Keep a few jokes in your pocket

Especially for clients, having a few good jokes to tell when you have the camera in their face can be a great way to get them giggling. Even for the older kids, the cheesy ones work like a charm.

“What is brown and sticky?”
“I don’t know…”

“Why were the kids not allowed to go see the new pirate movie?”
“Um, I don’t know…”

I’ll be here all night, folks!

black and white portrait of boy laughing by Kellie Bieser
older boy sitting in a chair and laughing by Kellie Bieser

3. Embarrass them (just a little)

Use this trick with caution as it can backfire pretty quickly, but I have found that a little good-natured embarrassment can make even the toughest customers crack a smile.

I know that if my eleven year old isn’t cooperating, all I have to do is mention that special girl’s name and he is going to break out into a smile. Just be sure to not push them too far as you don’t want anyone stomping away in tears as you remind her about her undying love of Harry Styles…

high key photo of boy in a red sweatshirt laughing by Kellie Bieser

4. Play a game

This is the best trick to use when wanting smiles from more than one subject. By having them play a game and tapping into that silly competitive spirit, your kids are less focused on the camera and more focused on the fun they are having!

One of my absolute favorite games is the silly face contest: have the kids look each other in the eye and whoever can keep from giggling is the winner. Within seconds everyone will be laughing and you will have your shot!

For little ones, a simple game of peek-a-boo behind the camera is sure to do the trick.

picture of boys making silly faces by Kellie Bieser
photo of two boys laughing together by Kellie Bieser

5. Let your subject be your “assistant”

If you have been in front of the camera recently then you know how strange and awkward it can be. I might be a little biased, but I think that it is SO much more fun to be behind the camera!

Invite your child subjects to take a peek at the LCD screen and see themselves. Not only will it bring a smile to their faces to see themselves looking so great, but it will make them that much more excited about the next shot.

With clients’ children, I love to make it so that only the kids are allowed to see the back of my camera and we keep it a secret from the parents… double the fun!

photo of girl looking at the pictures on the camera by Kellie Bieser
girl laughing at photos by Kellie Bieser

6. Reverse psychology

When all else fails, I command my subject to NOT smile. “Don’t you dare smile at me! If you even give me a little grin I am going to burst into tears!”

Of course they know exactly what I am up to, but after a couple of extremely silly faces and/or glares, I am bound to get a happy grin.

picture of a boy making a goofy face by Kellie Bieser
photo of brothers hugging by Kellie Bieser

So now you have no excuse to ever say, “Say CHEESE!” again. With these six tricks, you have all you need to capture the happiest faces and most authentic smiles from your kids.

The only problem now will be choosing which ones to print nice and big for the wall … and that is a problem that makes me smile.